The No-Hit Wonders

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In 1963 Thee In Crowd, a San Gabriel rock band decked out in glittering jackets and gelled hair, would do splits on stage to the screams of dazzled girls at high school dances.

They weren't one-hit wonders. They were no-hit wonders.

Their voices were drowned out in the relentless beat of more popular Latino bands of the early '60s.

No one but friends and family heard their one self-produced single.

Thirty years later, these boyhood friends, with thinner hair and thicker midsections, no longer fit into their sparkling jackets.

But they are still making music, performing two to three times a month at community centers and school auditoriums throughout the San Gabriel Valley, even though their high-energy dance steps have slowed to a toe-tap.

"If we tried to throw splits now they'd have to call the paramedics," laughed 47-year-old lead guitarist Art Hernandez, one of six original members who perform. "We can still move across the stage a little bit, though."

Added 45-year-old drummer Ray Diaz: "We'll be playing till we're dead. It's in our blood. It's something we won't let go away."

"Most bands separated after a few hits or died off," said Lawrence Perez, lead guitar player for the Premiers, a popular '60s Eastside band that performs with only three of its original members. "It's rare that a band that size still has so many members playing together."

Thee In Crowd began when 10 students from San Gabriel, Puente Hills and Mission high schools formed a band to play Top 40 hits at high school gyms, wedding parties and church halls for $14 apiece a night.

They crossed the paths of pioneering bands such as Thee Midniters ("Whittier Boulevard") the Premiers, and Cannibal and the Headhunters ("Land of 1,000 Dances.") These groups were part of the vibrant Latino rock scene--the Eastside Sound--that flowered in the Southland during the early '60s.

All along, Thee In Crowd's members say, they were in it for the fun.

"It's the camaraderie. We weren't looking to become stars," said Henry De La Rosa, 47, the trumpet player.

Through the years the band shifted members. Some were drafted and sent to Vietnam. Others married and moved away. Two died of cancer. But six originals stayed at it.

Today, Hernandez is an Alhambra school district groundskeeper. Diaz is a truck driver and De La Rosa is a truck company manager. John Gonzalez, the 45-year-old bassist, is an Azusa flower shop owner. Ray Guerra, the 50-year-old trumpet player, is a truck driver. And George Gutierrez, the 47-year-old tenor saxophone player, is a warehouseman. Three other musicians joined later.

The band plays mostly oldies from the '40s through the '70s, with some Mexican music and country-western hits.

The Eastside Sound scene was heavily influenced by Motown, James Brown and the British Invasion. More than being a musical phenomenon, the scene offered young Latinos an opportunity to develop a distinctive style.

"Every weekend there was a dance somewhere," said Premiers guitarist Perez. "It was a trendy thing. Girls would get dressed up in nice dresses. Guys would put on preacher coats and ties. They'd gather around and watch you play, then get out and dance."

Bobby Espinosa, keyboard player for East L.A. band El Chicano, which still plays a few times a year, remembers Thee In Crowd as "real impressive with their horns and dance steps. They may not have been the best musicians around, but you could tell they had a good time with it."

The band practices weekly in the garage of Hernandez's San Gabriel home.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
54°